[This is the intro to a debate that happened between 2 YouTubers on the topic of veganims and animal rights.
At the 1:10 mins mark Vaush presents an argument, then I jump in to mock debate how I think the conversation could have more ideally gone.]
AY: So, you currently are not a vegan?
Vaush: That is correct
AY: Now if we replaced all the animals in the factory farms with humans you wouldn’t say it’s morally wrong…
Vaush: We can skip a few steps, I include animals in my ethical system, I agree that meat eating is morally unjustifiable. I’m not… “believes meat eating is fine,” I’m… “knows veganism is correct and is too much of a moral hypocrite to go forward with it.”
AY: Oh ok, well honestly I don’t know how much I have to say to you then, I’m not like a psychologist who can work your brain.
Vaush: Yeah, no, what we do is unironically monstrous with the factory farming.
My argument here, and this is one of defending hypocrisy, so I recognise my bias in this respect, but the argument I would have here is comparable to the argument I would make for not for example telling people to not buy t-shirts that were made in China. It’s that we live in a system of such unfathomably inhuman production and it’s so convenient to adhere to the ethical modes of production in which we live, that I don’t know if I can condemn a person ethically on an individual level for participating in systems that are so much larger than them. You know?
Script: Okay I can answer that, so it’s important to acknowledge where someone is either unaware of or incapable of following a vegan lifestyle, that they are not individually responsible for the act of eating meat, even though the act itself is still unethical.
But we should be wary of extending that lack of individual responsibility away from extreme situations like being stranded on a desert island, to today where a lot of industry happens to be unethical.
Because even if we grant there’s a better system we can move to such that all consumption under capitalism currently is unethical, there exists a scale of immorality such that we hope once people become aware of particularly bad industries, they will get on board with living a low-impact vegan lifestyle.
So there’s two things:
- There’s the potential harm in playing down the effectiveness of the vegan boycott, because a really important positive attribute to acknowledge about this lifestyle is it’s a broad food category that in its wholefood form is easy to distinguish on the shelf. Therefore experimenting with the diet doesn’t need to feel like a burden to take on board in the same way researching and seeking out conflict-free minerals in everything you buy can be for example.
- The potential harm in exaggerating exceptions to the rule of individual responsibility.
But yeah you accept buying animal products is unethical, it’s just a case of some of the individual responsibility gets shared more evenly with the collective society for say voting parties which maintain the status quo, which in turn alienates/socially conditions you into not having full agency.
Vaush: Yes, I agree that meat eating is morally unjustifiable. I’m not… “believes meat eating is fine,” I’m… “knows veganism is correct and is too much of a moral hypocrite to go forward with it.”
Script: Cool, so yeah, you just have a critique of where activists put their energy?
Vaush: Yes, I just think advocacy is more effective when it’s being done outside of the demand by consumers, I don’t think there’s any likelihood or any possibility of getting the vast majority of people off of their meat diets.
Script: Well I would say existing as a vegan in the world is this really positive step to showing your seriousness and dedication you’re willing to put in, so then being better able to find each other and get organized, for example people’s willingness to start a food not bombs stall or guerrilla garden.
Secondly It’s not the case that we need to win over everyone to veganism in order to make massive change, if a large enough minority can create breathing room for legislation and food co-ops on the way to a vegan world, I do think it’s both an obligation to attempt it and to make the transition easier saving humans and wildlife. As well as driving less, buying second hand, etc.
Thirdly, boycotts have the effect of bringing communities together under a liberation politics. For example car-sharing during the Montgomery bus boycott, students leading the call to stop subsidising Israel and before that South Africa, the widespread boycotting of a reactionary tabloid newspaper in the UK that ran stories saying mass suffocation at a football stadium due to overcrowding and fences were the fans fault. So boycotting to show your real felt ties to the land you stand on as necessary optics for seriousness on the left.
And finally I’d just say there’s a way you could take this concern for shifting the blame onto individuals too far the other way, in that I think we’d agree if someone was obscenely rich and spent all their money on luxury items, never donating to campaigns or charities that we would need to bring about a better society you would think badly of this person because they would be displaying the same indifferent behaviour you’d expect of someone who say participated in systemic racism, for example excluding your generationally low-income black friend with no car from playing on your sports team by never seeing it as your responsibility to offer to drive to pick them up so they can join in.
Vaush: Yes. Look forward to discussing this more.
Script: Great, also if you could look into some animal rights news stories to cover on your stream, I do think there’s a lot of damning political stories which would do the job of bringing people further left as well as hopefully towards veganism. I’ll leave links to some in the description you can take a look at.
Alright, take care.
Vaush: Yes. Have a good one.
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